Boulder Farmers' Market, week ten: Escoffier School of Culinary Arts cooking contest
There's a cooking contest at the Boulder Farmers' Market today. A week earlier, Elizabeth Marsden and Cacy Britton had bested several other students in a competition at Boulder's Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, and they are now facing off against each other at one of the market stalls, surrounded by curious Saturday shoppers.
Earlier in the morning, each was given $50 to spend at the market for ingredients, along with a half hour to shop; they were also each provided with one lemon, oil, butter, salt and pepper, and each was given the assistance of one of the school's professional chefs. Now they're chopping like fury, manipulating saute pans on table-top burners, stirring and pouring, all under the watchful eye of the school's executive chef, Graham Mitchell. The two contestants have an hour and a quarter to create four plates for the four people who'll be judging.
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Prizes will come from the American Culinary Federation: a trophy for one of them, special chefs' jackets for both and gift certificates from Williams-Sonoma -- $100 for the winner, $50 for the runner up.
The contestants wait for the judges's verdict.
Elizabeth has bought salmon, Cacy ground lamb. She is using young onions, radishes, pea shoots and a variety of mushrooms; he is busy sauteeing onions and tomatoes diced small. Both have asparagus on their menus. Between them, they have shopped at Wild Alaska Salmon, Triple M Bar Ranch, the Black Cat Farm, 2 Rs, Miller Farms, Red Wagon, Hazel Dell Mushrooms, Wisdom Poultry (for eggs), Far Out Gardens, Pappardelle's Pasta, Haystack Mountain Goat Cheese and Munro Farms. Containers of prepared ingredients stand on the tables in a tidy mise en place. Elizabeth ties bundles of asparagus with strips of onion top. Cacy discusses the bottle of Muscat Blanc he bought from Bookcliff Vineyards with his sous chef. Won't it be too sweet? the sous chef wonders. Cacy hopes not; he says the wine seller assured him it was dry and light.
The contestants work with quiet concentration, even though observers are now pressing in on every side. One reaches over to use the Purell. Toward the very end of the contest when Cacy, fighting the clock and already a few minutes over his time, is plating, another watcher starts asking him detailed questions about his preparation. Sweating, he tries to answer. These intrusive encounters are nothing, Chef Graham tells me quietly. A couple of weeks ago, someone actually snatched a morsel of food from a cutting board as an Escoffier chef was chopping, contaminating the board and risking her own fingers.
Elizabeth's dish is finally plated. She has made sauteed mushrooms with a square of salmon laid on the top, skin-side up. A bundle of sauteed asparagus nestles at one side and a row of thin-sliced radish lines the other. Cacy is still working. His pasta is a touch too al dente. I'm worrying that the salmon will get cold -- and also that Cacy will lose a point. But then his dish is prepped and ready and the judges move in with their forks. It's astonishing how differently two trained chefs can think and work when they're presented with the same array of ingredients. Elizabeth's plate is light and spring-like, the pink of the salmon contrasting with the earthier mushroom colors and the vibrant green asparagus. Cacy has gone for a deeper and more unctuous set of flavors. He cooked the sauteed vegetables down to serve as a sauce for his thick-cut strips of pasta, and deglazed with the wine. On top, he placed a ground lamb patty, and on top of that a poached egg: Break the egg yolk and there's a bright gold sauce for your plate. Then he added a touch of herbed chevre.
As the judges compare notes, I ask Elizabeth and Cacy about their professional goals and how they came to the kitchen.
Keep reading to learn the winner of the contest.